It was another step in the right direction.
The Orangeburg-Wilkinson Bruins boys basketball team had lost in the title games of the 2016 Orangeburg County Sweet Sixteen Tournament and the 2017 Moody Classic in Rock Hill.
But on Friday night in their home gym, the O-W team got 24 points from guard Jordan Snell and 16 points from forward and tournament MVP Yohannes Utsey to take a 57-52 win against Colleton County in the title game of the 2017 Orangeburg County Sweet Sixteen Tournament.
The Bruins (14-2 record) reached the championship by taking wins against Wade Hampton, Metrolina Christian Academy (N.C.) and Manning.
Last season in the event, O-W lost the title game 70-49 to Fort Dorchester. This time around, with Bruins first-year head coach Willie Thomas guiding the Bruins, the team led 46-35 entering the fourth quarter and held off a late scoring surge from the Cougars.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but the guys got it done tonight," Thomas said. "I'm glad for them, since they've never experienced this.
"We've got to learn how to win games. We put ourselves in position to win, but we have to finish strong. That's growth. Now we've got two games left to propel us into region play."
Utsey, a leader on last season's team, is a 6-foot-6 presence in the post for the Bruins.
"We go as he goes," Thomas said. "He was a monster in the first half (scoring 12 points) and then he got in a little bit of foul trouble.
"If he's not in the game, it's hard for us to score and we become a jump-shooting team. If we can work on defense some more, we can have a good basketball team this season. We did extremely well in these two tournaments during the break. We're playing better, but maybe we aren't playing well just yet."
Colleton County was a step away from the tournament title game a season ago, winning the third-place game in 2016 against Saluda. The Cougars (10-4 record) returned to Orangeburg this year determined to have a better showing, guided by more experience and the play of returning leading scorers De'Iajae Ferguson and Tristian Nieves.
On Friday night, Ferguson was held to just 8 points, while Nieves scored 18 points and Javon Williams added 14 points.
Snell scored 12 points in the first quarter as the Bruins jumped ahead to an early 22-15 lead entering the second quarter. The Cougars managed just 6 points in the second quarter, as O-W moved ahead to a 33-21 lead at the half.
The Bruins matched their 11 points in the second quarter with an 11-point third quarter, to keep the scoring pace going. But Colleton County scored 14 points in the third quarter and 17 in the fourth quarter to get back within 2 points in the final minute of play.
Nyeem Green made one free throw with 36 seconds left, to pull the Cougars within a basket, for a 54-52 score. But the Bruins got a free throw from Jahnarious Snell with 20 seconds left and a layup from Christian Joseph with 5 seconds left to seal the win.
The Sweet Sixteen All-Tournament Team included Utsey, Joseph, Nieves, Green, Manning's Daris Williams, Calhoun County's Zamuel Fredrick, Kingstree's Quinton Alston and Fort Dorchester's Trent Brown.
O-W returns to action on Tuesday, hosting Calhoun County in a 7:30 p.m. non-region contest.
Kingstree got 27 points from Quinton Alston and 20 points from Direlle McGee to take a win against the Monarchs in Friday's third-place game in the Orangeburg County Sweet Sixteen Tournament at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
Manning was led by Corey Graham with 20 points and Cam'ron Cain with 10 points.
Fort Dorchester 73
Calhoun County 55
Fort Dorchester topped the Saints in Friday's fifth-place game in the Orangeburg County Sweet Sixteen Tournament at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
Calhoun County plays next on Tuesday at Orangeburg-Wilkinson in a 7:30 p.m. game.